Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006). His most recent sinological book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017. His newest book of poems in Dutch, Intocht (Introit) has been available as a POD from the American Book Center since June 2018.

He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.

Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog. His newest book of poetry in Dutch is Intocht (Introit), issued by the American Book Center in June 2018.

After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In June 2019 he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of National Taiwan Normal University. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. For many years he sang in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

T’ai Chi Chih: Lineage or Lone Star?

(Scraps from a Sinological Scrapbook 漢齋閒情異誌, fragment 28)

        For some years now I have been practicing T’ai Chi Chih, and like many who have studied it and kept up with it, I have benefited in health and spirit. Unlike most, however, I also studied Chinese at the university and went on to spend years in Taiwan. Knowledge of the language, and the experience of studying tai chi for several years with a Taiwan-Chinese teacher, gave me access to a very different perspective on the tai chi-related disciplines in general, and on T’ai Chi Chih in particular.
        By saying this and contextualizing T’ai Chi Chih in this way at the outset, I am making a statement. I am saying I beg to differ with the standard publicity image of T’ai Chi Chih (hereinafter TCC). That view would have us believe TCC just dropped down from the sky in 1974; it is unique; it had no important antecedents. Justin F. Stone, the ‘originator,’ experienced ‘intuitive flashes’ and devised the various movements based on them.
        I believe that account, though it contains truths, is one-sided and misleading. It ignores, or has been ignorant of, some conclusions that I have drawn based on research into Justin Stone’s own books and some relevant books in Chinese.
        I own three successive editions of Stone’s instruction manual titled T’ai Chi Chih![1] Their publication history is complicated, but the first printing of each seems to have been in 1974, 1984, and 1996 respectively. For convenience, rather than repeating the title I will refer to them simply as ‘1974,’ ‘1984,’ and ‘1996.’ Giving us three quick-freezes in time, each appearing some years after its predecessor, they enable us to piece together a more nuanced version of what I believe actually happened. In particular, the introductory material, forewords, and prefaces contain valuable hints.
        To begin with the original handbook which came out in 1974, the first thing that meets the eye is the prominent role played by Wen-Shan Huang. Huang is the volume’s dedicatee – Stone calls him ‘my friend and teacher’ – and is also the author of an extensive foreword placing TCC in the context of various Chinese concepts and practices.
        Huang, whose name would now normally be written Huang Wenshan (黃文山), lived from about 1898 to 1988 (sources differ). Unlike many other guiding lights of what was then called the Human Potential Movement, he was highly educated and held high academic credentials as an anthropologist. Aside from his scholarly work, he had studied tai chi in China and had learned from some of the most famous masters including Dong Yingjie, Zheng Manqing, T. T. Liang, Da Liu, and Xiong Yanghe.[2] Huang had been Justin Stone’s tai chi teacher in California. Stone himself also taught tai chi – I am referring to what most people nowadays understand as ‘tai chi,’ which in Chinese is called taiji quan or in the older transcription t’ai chi ch’üan – for many years before the advent of his own TCC system. I will detail this shortly.
        Very clearly, Huang places Justin Stone’s system in the context of existing Chinese disciplines. He says: ‘T’ai Chi Chih, or any other forms of the exercise of the Inner School...derived their basic idea from T’ai Chi Ch’uan.’ More specifically, on the first page of his preface Huang explains ‘T’ai Chi Chih’ as meaning ‘T’ai Chi Ruler.’ (‘Ruler’ in this context means ‘footrule’ or ‘foot-long piece of wood.’ The reference is to a sort of stick about a foot long, which in the Orient is held between the hands during certain exercises to keep the hands equidistant. In the transcription used in those days, technically called the Wade-Giles Transcription, actually the Chinese word for ‘footrule,’ , should have been written ch’ih and not chih, and the name of the whole discipline should have been spelled t’ai chi ch’ih, but those apostrophes were often omitted.) Huang writes: ‘My friend, Mr. T. T. Ching, who was Chao Chung Tao in 1957, in Peking, has maintained a Taoist Center in Hong Kong in recent years for the teaching of this exercise-discipline; I was a member of this Center...Basing his studies upon the fundamental movements of the Art, Mr. Stone, thru his own experiments and creation, has added many new movements...’ In the Chinese-language Appendix C to his own book, Huang specifically mentions 太極尺 or t’ai chi ch’ih as one of the disciplines he himself had studied.
        As a little research in internet sources and libraries in the Far East has shown, T. T. Ching (1898-1975) was a teacher in Hong Kong whose name written in Chinese characters is 程達材.[3] Starting in the early 1960s he published several books on what he called ‘Tai Chi Ruler’ and indeed claimed to have learned from Chao Chung Tao (趙中道, in the modern transcription Zhao Zhongdao) in 1957. (I have a book of Ching’s in Chinese dating from 1964, as well as a more extensive later volume called Xiantian qigong taiji chi quanshu先天氣功太極尺全書 whose English title – the main text itself is in Chinese – is The Book of Tai Chi Ruler with Complete Details.) Ching’s work and methods were known in Taiwan as well, via at least one unauthorized reprint.
        I have not found any specific evidence that Justin Stone himself ever studied with T. T. Ching. But in his 1974 description of the movement that he calls Bass Drum (which aside from lacking a wooden ‘ruler’ is virtually the same, including the crucial foot and leg movements, as what Ching in Chinese called yao chi or Rotating the Ruler), Stone includes a footnote: ‘In Taiwan a stick somewhat like a bone is held, so the two hands must remain equidistant apart.’ This would seem to imply that Justin Stone at some stage had seen Taiwanese students performing Ching’s version of this movement. Or perhaps he had heard about this from Huang or someone else. In any case, at this point in time Stone was not averse to publicly associating part of his own system with a pre-existing set of exercises. (This and the bare-handed movement which Ching called mo yu or Groping for Fish, which Stone calls ‘Around the Platter,’ are now the standard first two movements in the regular T’ai Chi Chih sequence.)
Comparing the 1984 revised edition with the original book from 1974, at first sight we see mostly similarities. With a few exceptions, the movements and postures described are the same, and for the most part the descriptions and illustrations are unchanged. Turning to the introductory material, however, we discern a striking new accent in the way the book is now being presented to the world. The original preface by Huang, unmistakably implying a direct link between Justin Stone’s system and the Tai Chi Ruler which had already been taught in the 1950s by T. T. Ching, has been entirely deleted. Stone’s ‘Instructional Introduction’ has been maintained, but the wording of its first paragraph has become less modest. In 1974, Stone had written: ‘The movements...are the results of many years of experimentation. They represent an extension and development of the original movements taught by a Chinese master. The important principles have been retained as the repertoire has been expanded.’
        In the 1984 revision, this has been changed to: ‘The movements...are the results of many years of experimentation. From a development of the original two movements shown me, adding the leg motions and making other changes, I expanded and added eighteen more...Drawing on my meditation experiences and T’ai Chi Ch’uan training, I intuitively devised the other movements...’
        The ‘New Introduction’ to the revised volume also includes the snippet: ‘These are not ancient forms; they were originated by me...’
        Another dramatically new feature is that the system’s name, ‘T’ai Chi Chih,’ is now being construed to have a different meaning in Chinese. Rather than ‘Chih’ being referred to the Chinese character for ‘ruler’ as Huang had done, it is now said to be a different character meaning ‘knowledge.’ The whole expression is said to mean ‘Knowledge of the Supreme Ultimate.’
        In the still newer and extensively revised version which came out in 1996, the new stronger statements of originality are maintained. The name is again ‘Knowledge of the Supreme Ultimate,’ and once again there is no trace of Huang’s original preface. (The revisions are mostly in the illustrations and instructions to the movements, not the movements themselves.)

In the newer publicity material on TCC, Justin Stone is simply said to have ‘originated’ the system in 1974. (See, for example, the brief biography of Stone at the back of his 1996 volume, and later brief biographical summaries on the internet.) The emphasis is less on the ‘many years of experimentation’; indeed, the 1996 biography goes so far as to say that Stone originated the set ‘through intuitive flashes’ in 1974.
        This sudden-precipitation model does not quite tally with what Stone himself wrote in his 1984 introduction (and repeated in 1996): ‘...I began, around 1969, to experiment with my own forms based on the ancient principles. Having been fortunate enough to learn several little-known movements from an old Chinese man – movements practised in former days – I used these as the starting point for my experiments...In 1974, Sun Publishing Company asked me to write a book...and I began the laborious task of finishing and naming the nineteen forms...’
        A bit of background on this is to be found in an article on Stone in the Albuquerque Journal for 28 July 2005. There we read: ‘During a 1971 trip to Albuquerque to visit a friend, Stone wandered into a bookstore. The owner asked what he did...“I said I teach T’ai Chi Ch’uan,” he recalled. That comment immediately generated so much interest from the owner and customers that classes were soon organized for Stone to lead...One of his students was a local book publisher who asked Stone to write about T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Because a definitive text on the subject had already been written by Huang, Stone was not keen on the idea. Huang, however, had shown Stone three movements that Stone modified and used as a warm-up...The publisher then suggested Stone write about these instead.’
        ‘“It was just a few movements, so there wasn’t much to write about, but then, over the course of the next week, movements just started coming to me along with their names,” Stone said.’[4]
What all this suggests is that (1) the precipitation of the forms was not as sudden as all that, and (2) the inviting prospect of a publication played a strong catalytic role in the ‘intuitive’ process.
        The year after Stone’s book was first published, T. T. Ching died at age 77, not because he had been neglecting his health by ‘rotating the ruler’ insufficiently, but as the result of a traffic accident. It is interesting to speculate on what might have happened if he had lived long enough to see the success and growth of Justin Stone’s system after all references to him personally had been dropped. Would the two Teachers have joined hands in a collaborative effort, perhaps through the intermediary of Wen-Shan Huang, friend of both, who lived till 1988? Or would there have developed a rivalry of the ‘only-my-school-is-orthodox’ type which is so common in the Far East?
        One also wonders whether Stone’s mysterious ‘old Chinese man’ was Wen-Shan Huang the time of Stone’s publication, he would have been in his seventies. Or was it Tin Chin Lee, a Tai Chi master whom Stone met on a trip to Hawaii in 1958?
        Does any of this matter? To the present-day Western practitioner, of course not. Once you have abandoned the idea that only something with an ‘ancient’ pedigree can be right, what works for you is right for you.
        On the other hand, although I am no longer a professional scholar – long since retired, I am now as old as Justin Stone was when his revised edition with its revised claims appeared – I am still enough of a scholar to enjoy sorting out old strands, old clues, old loose ends. From this point of view, it is unfortunate that the compilers of Spiritual Odyssey: Selected Writings of Justin F. Stone 1985-1997 were so un-scholarly as not to provide source dates or details on the various pieces included in the volume. On page 78 of that volume, in a section called ‘Comments on Newspaper Articles,’ Stone is quoted as writing: ‘Please don’t falsify and say to interviewers that T’ai Chi Chih is a thousand years old, a well-kept court secret.’
        The interesting thing is that this is exactly what Wen-Shan Huang did say, at the very beginning of his enthusiastic foreword to Justin Stone’s book. Interpreting ‘Tai Chi Chih’ as ‘Tai Chi Ruler,’ Huang wrote: ‘More than a thousand years ago, this exercise...was kept as a secret known only to the clansmen of the Emperor. Mr. Chao Chung Tao, who was the descendant of one of the Emperor’s clansmen, was taught the secret...My friend, Mr. T. T. Ching...was taught the teaching, or Imperial secret, by Chao Chung Tao in 1957...’
Huang was probably, at that stage, trying to help Justin Stone. In the Far East, if you are teaching a martial art or a tai chi-related health discipline, the best thing is to claim that your method is not original – no such thing, it is the authentic continuation of a school whose unbroken tradition goes back many centuries. If you dare to set yourself up as a Teacher, you are supposed to have a venerable background.
In the West, the opposite holds. Only the new is truly relevant. Especially in anything involving health, only a recent discovery is really credible. I suspect that in the 1970s, thrilled at the chance to get more attention for his method by publishing a book on it, Justin Stone was perfectly glad to be endorsed, and placed in an old Oriental tradition, by an eminent Teacher like Wen-Shan Huang. Later, perhaps feeling more confident that he could make it on his own, he was Western enough to want to emphasize his originality. Since then, most of his followers probably have had no idea of what a Chinese reader would undoubtedly think of as the main roots of the whole thing.
        In sharing what I have discovered, it is not my intention to detract unduly from Teacher Stone’s reputation. If his methods are effective – and I say they are – then they are legitimate regardless of their exact provenance. It is undoubtedly true that most of the movements he taught were of his own devising. It is also demonstrably true that some of the most basic ones, including the leg and foot movements which Stone himself emphasizes are characteristic and essential, were already being taught by his teacher’s teacher many years before.

--Lloyd Haft
May 2015

[1] Published respectively by Sun Publishing Company (Albuquerque, 1974); Good Karma Publishing (Fort Yates, Nevada 1994, but apparently a reprint of the ‘new revised edition’ by Satori Resources, 1984); and Good Karma Publishing (Boston, 2004 – the sixth printing of a ‘second edition’ which originally appeared in 1996).
[2] This information is from the original 1973 Hong Kong edition of Huang’s massive illustrated handbook Fundamentals of Tai Chi Ch’uan (see the Acknowledgements in English and Appendix C in Chinese). The book was reprinted in 1974 with a new introduction by Laura Huxley, the wife of Aldous Huxley and a widely known inspirational and self-help author in her own right. Four years previously, Laura Huxley and Alan Watts had both written forewords to a much briefer book on tai chi by Gia-fu Feng – surely one of the grand old books of the Human Potential Movement!  
[3] In the modern international Mandarin transcription this would be Cheng Dacai, but I do not agree with the practice of automatically rewriting Cantonese speakers’ names as if they were actually pronounced in Mandarin in daily life.
[4] The article as I have consulted it on the internet really does say the ‘trip to Albuquerque’ was in 1971, but I have not been able to confirm this.